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Private Visions, Public Ideals – The Legacy of Howard Ben Tré

January 27 – March 7, 2021
WaterFire Arts Center



Howard Ben Tré is internationally recognized for his unique sculptures and large-scale works of art for public and private spaces. Ben Tré was a pioneer in the use of cast glass as a sculptural medium and his work is included in more than 101 museums and public collections worldwide. His breakthrough technical innovations extended his mastery of cast glass and allowed him to create monumental sculptures that can survive the rigors of outdoor installation. Ben Tré received an M.F.A from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1980 and was a three-time recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a three-time recipient of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts Fellowship.

This exhibition was made possible through the generous support of Joseph A. Chazan, M.D. and Wendy MacGaw. It was organized by WaterFire Providence in collaboration with Wendy MacGaw. A special thanks to Eric Portrais, longtime assistant to Howard Ben Tré. Works on loan from the Collection of Benjamin Ben Tré and the Collection of Joseph A. Chazan, M.D.


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“Waterforest” 2001 – Tacoma Washington

Consists of concentric array of twenty 10 ft. bronze and glass towers as a landmark sited on a plaza adjacent to the Tacoma Museum of Glass to create a grove-like feeling. The towers allow water to bubble, rise and lower with the tides at different rates spilling out of the top onto the stones below.

Waterforest is an environment, it is neither a decoration or statuary. Waterforest is about place, it is directly related to the changing tides in the basin along the esplanade, the water ebbs and flows within the cylinders of glass and bronze. The waterworks set up a ‘grove’ within which you can walk and come upon the bench in the center as a place to rest and observe. It is a sculpture for the public not only to observe but to be within. It has the possibility to transform our daily life. It is my hope that Waterforest will be a place that transcends people’s everyday experiences and gives them an uncommon moment.” -Howard Ben Tré

“Fountain of Inspiration” Mary Baker Eddy Library “Hall of Ideas”  2002 – Boston MA

Digitally projected words bubble up from within the center of the fountain, swirl around the glass center and spill onto the floor and travel up onto the wall through a projection system to collect into an inspirational phrase by a famous author or figure.

The fountain is about the power of big ideas to transform the world.” -Howard Ben Tré

Hall of Ideas installation presents a collection of transforming ideas that contribute to the betterment of humanity in the form of an interactive experience of water, light, and movement. Five hundred famous quotations are brought to life through computer graphics – words spring out of a fountain in the center of the hall, and gradually move onto the walls to form a quote by authors such as Martin Luther King, Isaac Newton, Confucius, Jefferson, and Gandhi.

Fountain is the center of the experience. The fountain cycles through a set core of concepts, (liberty, hope, identity, etc). Every time a new concept is introduced, the color palette of the projections changes. The quotations move slowly in a spiral towards the edge of the bowl, they begin to unfold as they travel out of the fountain. The letters float and come in and out of focus. The words flow over the edge to the floor with a spotlight and travel across the floor to a wall scrim. The quotation moves up from the floor to the wall and begin to organize and forms a sentence with the inspirational phrase. The phrase rests and then begins to dissolve as another quotation is activated and begins its journey.

“Ring of Knowledge” Buffalo & Erie County Library 1993 – Buffalo NY

Commissioned by Grosvenor Society of five benches of cast glass and black granite as a bequest for an “intimate space for pause and reflection”.

Each of the 5 rings represents an individual element or creative energy found in nature.

  • Ground: the eternal reliability of Nature.
  • Water: Achieving clarity, making small things into big things.
  • Fire: the unrelenting energy of Spirit.
  • Wind: the atmosphere of tradition knowing the Self through knowing others.
  • Void: the mystery of the unrecognized Self.

“The specific configuration of the ‘Ring’ satisfies my desire to create a unified sculpture from the individual bench units and simultaneously provide an intimate space for pause and reflection within the flow of the larger architectural space of the Exhibition Hall.” -Howard Ben Tré

Warrington Town Centre 1999-2002 – Warrington England

In 1999 Warrington Borough Council undertook a program of urban regeneration within the town center to improve retail and cultural quarters of Warrington.

Project included 12 gardens, 2 fountains and 22 sculptures.

Howard Ben Tré was commissioned to include bronze, glass, granite and water features and create a series of gardens within a processional pedestrian route joined by a series of small individual gardens or “Commons”. Howard designed a scheme for three major shopping streets, Haymarket, Horsemarket and Buttermarket Streets that converged into a central square.

In the town’s central space where 4 streets intersect, Howard produced a fountain “Well of Light” with 10 classical columns surrounding it.

Included is a Water Garden, Cherry Commons, Stone Commons and Lavender Garden.

First time an American artist has led an urban development scheme in the UK, integrating architectural and landscape design, civic planning and public art in the interests of retail shops and businesses.

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“Casey Shearer Fountain” at Faunce Hall Brown University 2000 – Providence RI

Dedicated space named after Casey Shearer where students can read their publicly written works and a space to rest and reflect.

Casey Shearer was a Brown University Student who passed away on the eve of his graduation from Brown. His parents and friends funded a memorial in his honor.

“Gathering Vessel” Target Headquarters/Nicolet Mall 2000 – Minneapolis MN

Commissioned to design a welcoming public space, conceived as an outdoor anteroom to Target Headquarters. The fountain acts a focal point to the entrance of the building, and a canopy of trees defines a pathway to 11th Street.

“Gathering Vessel” fountain made of glass and bronze with figurative references. Surrounding the fountain is a bisected seating ring with additional seating placed perpendicular to the entrances of the bisected ring.

The Plaza is complimented by scones derived from Gathering Vessel for use on Target façade and a series of glass and bronze medallions on the existing paving pattern along Nicolet Mall that are lit from below to add a dynamic and unique path to the Plaza from the street.

“Immanent Circumstance” Post Office Square – Norman B. Leventhal Park 1992 – Boston MA

Hasbro Fountain – Providence RI

Fountain created for the lobby of the Hasbro Children’s Hospital.

Design collaboration, Howard and Gay Ben Tré

Artery Organization 1986 – Bethesda MD

Drinking Fountain was situated in the center of the plaza portico to act as a traditional town square focusing energy on the continual flow of water from the column fountain. The drinking fountain element is activated by an electric eye that is turned on when stepping onto the platform.

Bank Boston Plaza 1998 – Providence RI

Commissioned to create a dramatic environment for new building and entrance.

Designed in three different energy zones:

  1. One is a public space with a seating ring hewn from rough granite, surrounding a green patinated fountain urn with a female form enhanced by a ring of water jets that rise up 18” from the ground and another few inches from the top of the urn that spills to the ground.
  2. Two is a private space with granite benches in “waves” with high backs and stands of trees sheltering the space and giving shade in the green months of the year.
  3. Three incorporates the wall of the plaza with rows of bronze sconces, miniatures of the fountain urn that are illuminated at night, and the floor inset with 12” bronze medallions that illustrate the history and use of the location in Providence history.

“ Vortex, Stream and Confluence” Lloyd D. George United States Courthouse 1998 – Las Vegas NV

Original charge to to design a water feature evolved to instead focus on scarcity of water in the desert environment and the role that water historically plays in bringing people together.

  • “Vortex”/Granite Seating form that water takes as is springs from the ground
  • “Stream”/Red Sandstone Paving: the form of water as if moves from one place to another, visually  connecting the seating rings
  • “Confluence”/Contrast paving stone used to draw the pedestrians into the seating rings

Commissioned three different seating elements :

  1. The outermost granite seating designed so people can face each other in a communal manner
  2. The second element is a split circle with people facing outward, away from each other
  3. Final seating contains a small keyhole space designed to hold a single individual. Articulates the transition from civility of society to the disintegration of community, and ends in individual separation in the prison system.

“The Lightness of Being” 2008

Continues tradition of referencing inspirational architectural forms, stupas, spires, minarets and obelisks while also referencing individual figures and relating as a family group creating archetypal images.

Each sculpture has a foot anchoring it firmly to the ground, a demarcated waist and culminates in a head that continues the upward devotional movement of the form.

Articulates the connection between the spiritual intentions of the architectural form and our own physical and spiritual presence on earth.

“Ben Tré spoke of his interest in turning ‘experience into expression’. His ambition was to give the general public a chance to experience spaces which have been designed by the artist with attention to both functionality and aesthetic pleasure.”

– Ronald J. Onorato, an excerpt from his essay “A Constant Discussion: The Public Work of Howard Ben Tré”